Phar Lap was a legendary racehorse that won many notable races. After its triumph in the famous Agua Caliente Handicap in 1932 in Mexico, the animal died in agony under mysterious circumstances while on tour in the USA. One of the suggestions at the time was that Phar Lap had been poisoned.
Ivan M. Kempson (Academia Sinica, Taiwan) and Dermot A. Henry (Museum Victoria, Australia) have now subjected the horse’s hairs to a very thorough examination. As the researchers report in the journal Angewandte Chemie, the animal does indeed seem to have died of arsenic poisoning.
Traces of many substances that enter the body eventually also wind up in the hair, where they accumulate. Hair analysis has often been used to detect drug use or to posthumously uncover poisoning as the cause of death. After his death, Phar Lap was prepared and stuffed and displayed in Museum Victoria in Melbourne. “We were able to obtain small pieces of the hide and mane with the roots intact,” reports Kempson.
They only examined hairs that were unquestionably still growing at the time of death. These were individually analyzed along their entire length with synchrotron X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy at the Advanced Photon Source in Chicago. This method detects even trace amounts of chemical elements because each element emits very characteristic radiation.
The scientists looked at the arsenic content of the hairs. “They found a small amount of arsenic that was relatively evenly distributed over all of the hairs. This is in agreement with the arsenic content of the chemicals used to preserve the hide,” says Kempson. “In addition, we found a considerably elevated arsenic content at the same distance from the root in each of the hairs we examined.”At the time of the horse’s death, this part of the hair was under the surface of the skin.
“If you take into account the rate of growth for horse hair and the metabolic rate, the location at which the elevated arsenic concentration was found indicates that the horse must have eaten and metabolized the arsenic,” explains Kempson. In addition, the scientists used an X-ray technique that can distinguish the chemical environment of the arsenic. Says Kempson: “ The arsenic species identified also suggest that Phar Lap died of arsenic poisoning.”
However, it is impossible to know how the horse ingested the arsenic. Was it deliberate poisoning by competitors or enviers? Was it an accident—perhaps an overdose of the arsenic-containing tonics popular at the time? Was the feed contaminated? “That will always remain a mystery,” says Kempson.
Author: Ivan M. Kempson, Academia Sinica, Taipei (Taiwan), mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
Title: Synchrotron Radiation Reveals Arsenic Poisoning and Metabolism in Hair: The Case of Phar Lap
Angewandte Chemie International Edition, Permalink to the article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/anie.200906594
Ivan M. Kempson | Angewandte Chemie
Funding of Collaborative Research Center developing nanomaterials for cancer immunotherapy extended
28.06.2017 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Zeolite catalysts pave the road to decentral chemical processes Confined space increases reactivity
28.06.2017 | Technische Universität München
An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine
Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
28.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
28.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
28.06.2017 | Health and Medicine